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Dangers of heat

An international team of 70 experts warned of more summer heat-related fatalities due to climate change as global temperatures climb.

The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, based on data from 732 locations in 43 countries spread across every inhabited continent revealed that, on average, 37 percent of all heat-related deaths can be attributed directly to global warming.

Previous research on how climate change affects humanity has mostly projected future risks from heatwaves, droughts, wild fires and other extreme events made worse by global warming. The new study is one of the first and largest to look at health consequences that have already happened.

The authors said their methods – if extended worldwide – would add up to more than 100,000 heat-related deaths per year that can be attributed to man-made climate change.

For half a dozen countries, namely Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Kuwait, Guatemala and the Philippines, the percentage of heat-related mortality caused by climate change is 60 percent or more.

The researchers found that it is not the increase in average summer temperature – up 1.5 degrees Celsius since 1991 in the locations examined – that boosted death rates, but heat waves. How long they last, night time temperatures and humidity levels. The ability of a population to adapt was found to be crucial.

They added that populations where access to air conditioning is common had lower mortality. Its impact can be catastrophic for those that don’t, or where farmers must work outside in 45 C heat to feed their families.

The summers are getting hotter and more uncomfortable but we probably didn’t expect the heat to be deadly. Our ability to adapt and improve living conditions as the climate changes will be crucial in protecting vulnerable members of our families from falling victim to serious heat-related health problems. As government does what it can to help lower the rising global temperatures to more manageable levels for our sake, we also have to be proactive and prepare our homes and workplaces to be able to handle the temperatures that are expected to rise further.*

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